A couple of problems — well questions anyway — are raised by what former Attorney General Mike Hatch said Monday to MPR about state Rep.Steve Simon’s motives for pursuing allegations of improprieties during Hatch’s tenure at AG and that of his protégé/successor Lori Swanson.
As a matter of written policy, Mr. Hatch doesn’t speak to me and he extended the same courtesy to my esteemed MinnPost colleague G.R. Anderson who covered the Monday meeting at which Legislative Auditor James Nobles presented the results of his recent review of the attorney general’s office and some of the alleged improprieties.
But Mr. Hatch’s media relations policies do allow him to publicly impugn the motives of those who question his conduct and possibly to do so without necessarily limiting himself to the facts of the matter.
To be precise: Rep. Simon did ask some questions of Nobles at the Monday meeting about whether everything under Mr. Hatch was always done strictly according to Hoyle.
And Mr. Hatch, in explaining things to MPR’s excellent Tim Pugmire, did say that Rep. Simon was motivated by revenge because he “lost his job in the attorney general’s office.”
Pugmire did quote Rep. Simon to the effect that Hatch’s statements about him were untrue, but in the space allotted to that small arabesque in the MPR story, it came across as merely what the critics like to call he-said-she-said journalism.
I say, quoting a Russian proverb, that the heart of another is a dark forest (“Chuzhaia dusha potemk”), I freely admit that I don’t know what motivated Rep. Simon. But I did speak to him Tuesday. I can tell you what he told me, much of which can be checked out. And if Rep. Simon’s claims are true they are difficult to reconcile with Mr. Hatch’s version of Rep. Simon’s motives.
Rep. Simon said there’s “zero truth” to Mr. Hatch’s statement about his departure from the AG’s office. Simon was a former assistant attorney general from 1996 to 2001, did work under Hatch and his then top aide Swanson. But Rep. Simon said that he did not “lose his job” at the AG’s office. Rather he left it voluntarily and “on [his] own terms” to go into private practice with the firm of Robins, Kaplan, Miller & Ciresi, which is not universally considered a step down from a job in the AG’s office.
Rep. Simon recalls being “given a very warm sendoff by Mike Hatch personally” and congratulated by Mr. Hatch on his excellent new position. As supporting evidence that he left on mutual good terms with Mr. Hatch, Rep. Simon told me that Hatch had gone doorknocking for him in his 2004 campaign for the Legislature and that he, Rep. Simon, had contributed to the 2006 campaigns of both Mr. Hatch for governor and Ms. Swanson for attorney general.
Those facts can be verified and seem difficult to reconcile with Mr. Hatch’s portrayal of an angry parting with grudges nursed and revenge plotted.
Simon said his motivation for asking Nobles to pursue allegations of AG’s office improprieties is that the allegations have been brought to him by people he knew from his former work in the office and they are serious enough to merit investigation:
“I just think it’s unfortunate that the first response to serious allegations is to engage in smear tactics and making up facts. These aren’t my allegations. This is the classic example of shooting the messenger. Well maybe not shooting, but smearing and defaming the messenger. Generally speaking, this kind of attempted character assassination is unfortunate and a distraction.”
In my own recent reporting into the trauma that Mr. Hatch’s leadership visited on the AG’s office, it was alleged by his subordinates that Mr. Hatch could not tolerate disagreement or criticism and was likely to take revenge on any critics.
Perhaps this public attack on Rep. Simon’s motives, competence and character is an example of this. Or perhaps Mr. Hatch can prove that he actually did fire Rep. Simon and can explain to some reporter with whom he is on speaking terms the acts of political friendship traveling in both directions between Rep. Simon and himself after Simon left the AG’s office.
If Mr. Hatch decides to reply to me, with an interview or another written statement, I will convey his evidence to MinnPost’s faithful readers.